Advertisement

Figures of Exchange: A Poststructuralist Semiotics of Reading

Chapter
  • 22 Downloads

Abstract

In the foregoing chapters I have reviewed recent practices of reading based on subjective and sociocultural negotiation (reader-response), rhetorical subversion (deconstruction), and a non-oedipal, anti-phallogocentric model of literary exchange (femin-ism). Loosely allied under a common critique of text-centered hermeneutics, these poststructuralist and reader-oriented approaches allow interpretive subjects to intervene more actively in the process of narrative exchange. Critical reading in this perspective is no longer an ancillary activity, passively receiving ‘the imprint of the poem’, but ‘an active, self-ordering and self-corrective process’2 which leads to a reformulation of textual and readerly grids. But while these models of recreative reading allow us to engage more meaningfully with the texts of our culture, freeing us from the immediate pressures of the conformity-to-thetext ideology, their interpretive effectiveness is conditioned by our awareness of the epistemological assumptions and articulatory strategies that we bring to bear on texts. In what follows, I intend to pursue this line of thought further, seeking ways in which the critical philosophies of poststructuralism can be used more rigorously to highlight the articulatory models on which narratives and our interpretations rely. What I am in effect proposing is a synthesis, however provisional, between the revisionistic, anti-systematic disposition of poststructuralism and the investigative rigour of cultural semiotics. Each perspective would act as a facilitator and corrective for the other; together they could provide us with finer critical tools and a more nuanced understanding of the acts of appropriation, reformulation, and self-recreation involved in reading.

Keywords

Literary Text Narrative Text Model Reader Interpretive Strategy Critical Practice 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Pierre Maranda, ‘The Dialectic of Metaphor: An Anthropological Essay on Hermeneutics’, in The Reader in the Text: Essays on Audience and Interpretation, ed. Susan R. Suleiman and Inge Crosman (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), p. 183.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Wayne Booth, ‘Rhetorical Critics Old and New: the Case of Gérard Genette’, in Reconstructing Literature, ed. Lawrence Lerner (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1983), p. 136. For a deconstructionist like Paul de Man narratology is a rather barren area of endeavor constantly threatened by the tedium of its techniques as well as by the magnitude of the issues — Resistance to Theory, p. 106. Formalist critics have responded by describing deconstruction as a form of ‘textual vandalism’ and ‘negative hermeneutics’.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan, ‘How the Model Neglects the Medium: Linguistics, Language, and the Crisis of Narratology,’ The Journal of Narrative Technique, 19/1 (Winter 1989): 157–66. Presented originally as a plenum paper at the 1987 Conference on Narrative Literature (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor).Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    Emile Benveniste, Problems in General Linguistics, trans. Mary Elizabeth Meek (Coral Gables: University of Miami Press, 1971), pp. 67–8. For an evaluation of Benveniste’s subject semiotics, see Silverman, The Subject of Semiotics, pp. 44–53.Google Scholar
  5. 12.
    Gérard Genette, Nouveau Discours du récit (Paris: Seuil, 1983), p. 106.Google Scholar
  6. 14.
    Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan, Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics (London: Methuen, 1983), p. 118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 16.
    Eco, The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979/1984), p. 3.Google Scholar
  8. 18.
    Lubomir Dolezel, ‘Eco and His Model Reader’, Poetics Today, 1/4 (1980): 186–7.Google Scholar
  9. 23.
    Thaïs E. Morgan, ‘Is There an Intertext in This Text?: Literary and Interdisciplinary Approaches to Intertextuality’, American Journal of Semiotics, 3/4 (1985): 8.Google Scholar
  10. 24.
    Michael Riffaterre, ‘Interpretation and Undecidability’, New Literary History, 12/2 (1981): 238.Google Scholar
  11. 27.
    Riffaterre, Essais de stylistique structurale (Paris: Flammarion, 1971), p. 327. Trans. Paul de Man.Google Scholar
  12. 29.
    Riffaterre, ‘The Interpretant in Literary Semiotics’, American Journal of Semiotics, 3/4 (1985): 47, 53.Google Scholar
  13. 31.
    Robert Scholes, Semiotics and Interpretation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982), p. 12.Google Scholar
  14. 32.
    Leonard Orr, ‘Intertextuality and the Cultural Text in Recent Semiotics’, College English, 48/8 (1986): 33.Google Scholar
  15. 35.
    J. Kristeva, Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980), pp. 64–6.Google Scholar
  16. 37.
    See Michel Foucault, L’Ordre du discours (Paris: Gallimard, 1971), p. 55.Google Scholar
  17. 40.
    Julia Kristeva, La Révolution du langage poétique (Paris: Seuil, 1974), pp. 344, 340.Google Scholar
  18. 41.
    V.N. Volosinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, trans. Ladislav Matejka and I.R. Titunik (New York: Academic Press, 1976), p. 60.Google Scholar
  19. 42.
    Barthes, ‘From Work to Text’, in Image-Music-Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), p. 160.Google Scholar
  20. 44.
    M.A.K. Halliday, Language as Social Semiotic: the Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning (London: Arnold, 1978), p. 81.Google Scholar
  21. 45.
    John Deely, ‘A Context for Narrative Universals, or: Semiology as Pars Semiotica’, American Journal of Semiotics, 4/3–4 (1986): 57–58, 60.Google Scholar
  22. 46.
    Myrdene Anderson, et al., A Semiotic Perspective on the Sciences: Steps Toward a New Paradigm (Toronto Semiotic Circle Working Paper, 1984), p. 1.Google Scholar
  23. 47.
    For an excellent, synthetic discussion of this sociosemiotic orientation in relation to Bakhtin’s concept of dialogism, see Terry Threadgold, ‘The Semiotics of Volo§inov, Halliday, and Eco’, American Journal of Semiotics, 4/3–4 (1986): 114–15.Google Scholar
  24. 49.
    Thomas A. Sebeok, ‘Ecumenicalism in Semiotics’, in Sebeok, ed., A Perfusion of Signs (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977), p. 182.Google Scholar
  25. 51.
    Wayne C. Booth, ‘Preserving the Exemplar’, Critical Inquiry, 3/3 (Spring 1977): 415.Google Scholar
  26. 52.
    Hans Robert Jauss, ‘Der Leser als Instanz einer neuen Geschichte der Literatur’, Poetica, 7/3–4 (1975): 325 44.Google Scholar
  27. 55.
    W.J.T. Mitchell, ‘Pluralism as Dogmatism’, Critical Inquiry, 12/1 (1986): 496.Google Scholar
  28. 57.
    Paul de Man, ‘The Purloined Ribbon’, Glyph I: Johns Hopkins Textual Studies (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1977), pp. 39–40.Google Scholar
  29. 58.
    Christopher Norris, Contest of Faculties: Philosophy and Theory After Deconstruction (London and New York: Methuen, 1985), p. 223. But Norris himself occasionally translates Derrida’s paradoxical arguments in absolute terms, or regards deconstruction as ‘the closest “philosophic” counterpart to that strain of unsettling meta-narrative experiment found in post-modernist fiction’, an unveiler of the repressed fictionality and ‘deviant’ speech acts in all discourse (p. 165 et passim).Google Scholar
  30. 60.
    David Bleich, ‘Discerning Motives in Language Use’, in Composition & Literature, ed. Winifred Bryan Homer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), pp. 81–95.Google Scholar
  31. 61.
    David Bleich, ‘Gender Interests in Reading and Language’, in Gender and Reading: Essays on Readers, Texts, and Contexts, ed. Elizabeth A. Flynn and Patrocinio P. Schweickart (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), p. 239. In a fine, well-conducted analysis that as usual starts from sample written responses, Bleich advances the debatable hypothesis that these differences in the processing of narratives emerge from the alternate perceptions of the ‘mother tongue’ that boys and girls have during the process of language acquisition: perceiving their language as ‘mother’s language’, boys are more prone to grasp the ‘content of the narrative and the source of the narrative as other’.Google Scholar
  32. 66.
    Umberto Eco, ‘Horns, Hooves, Insteps: Some Hypotheses on Three Types of Abduction’, in The Sign of Three: Dupin, Holmes, Peirce, ed. Umberto Eco and Thomas A. Sebeok (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983), p. 205.Google Scholar
  33. 67.
    Norman N. Holland, ‘The New Paradigm: Subjective or Transactive?’, New Literary History, 7/2 (Winter 1976): 337.Google Scholar
  34. 69.
    Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), p. 6.Google Scholar
  35. 71.
    Dominick LaCapra, Rethinking Intellectual History (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), pp. 264–5.Google Scholar
  36. 75.
    Joseph Margolis, ‘The Logic and Structures of Fictional Discourse’, Philosophy and Literature, 7 (1983): 162–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 78.
    Peter J. Rabinowitz, Before Reading: Narrative Conventions and the Politics of Interpretation (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987), p. 43.Google Scholar
  38. 81.
    Edward Said, The World, the Text, and the Critics (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), p. 5.Google Scholar
  39. 87.
    Edward Said, ‘Opponents, Audiences, Constituencies and Community’, in The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, ed. Hal Foster (Port Townsend: Bay Press, 1983), pp. 158, 155.Google Scholar
  40. 89.
    ‘The Life of Infamous Men’, in Michel Foucault: Power, Truth, Strategy, ed. Meaghan Morris and Paul Patton (Sydney: Feral Publications, 1979).Google Scholar
  41. 91.
    Iurij Lotman, ‘The Dynamic Model of a Semiotic System’, Semiotica 21/3–4 (1977): 193–210;Google Scholar
  42. 91.
    Itamar Even-Zohar, Polysystem Theory, Poetics Today, I/1–2 (1979): 287–310. For an overview of the contributions brought by cultural semiotics to text theories, see Leonard Orr, ‘Intertextuality and the Cultural Text in Recent Semiotics’, pp. 32–44.Google Scholar
  43. 94.
    Ross Chambers, Story and Situation: Narrative Seduction and the Power of Fiction (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), pp. 8–9.Google Scholar
  44. 95.
    Ross Chambers,‘Narrative and Other Triangles’, The Journal of Narrative Technique, 19/1 (Winter 1989): 37.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Marcel Cornis-Pop 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Virginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUK

Personalised recommendations